Your Recipes Are Half Missing!

. . . but you probably don’t know it!

Ever wonder why a recipe might not taste as good as you’d hoped, even though you followed it exactly?  Here’s a big reason:

Recipes are usually missing half the information you need to make them turn out the way you want.

Of course this vital information hasn’t been omitted intentionally. It’s just that there’s a lot of know-how that goes into making recipes. If a recipe writer were to actually document all the ingredient notes, cooking tips, cautions about doneness and seasoning, and all the other details and nuances that go into creating a dish, it would fill a small booklet. Since nobody wants to read a small booklet to make a single dish, a writer shares just the key points, and that summary is what we call a “recipe.”

Your recipes might as well have half their pages ripped out!

You’ve heard of the phrase, “reading between the lines.” This idiom came from an early method of transmitting coded messages by writing secret information in invisible ink between the lines. Only by “reading between the lines” would the recipient learn the secret information.

This is actually a pretty good description of what’s going on with a recipe. There is a lot of invisible information that would make your dishes turn out better. But you need a decoding device to decipher it. In the kitchen that “device” takes the form of our knowledge base of cooking techniques, tips, tricks and other know-how, e.g., what kind of pan is best for sautéing vs. soup making; how to strain broth, cook frozen fish and use fresh herbs; what kind of salt to use; the difference between mincing, dicing and chopping; and how to tell when a vegetable or piece of meat  is done.

For the longest time this kind of know-how was fairly universal, so recipes could be pretty brief, like this recipe for Colcannon from the 1960s. (1)  (Don’t worry–we have a more modern version for you!)

1960s version of Colcannon recipe

As we’ve become less and less familiar with cooking, however, recipes have had to become longer and longer, making them more and more tedious to follow.  And even at that, there is still a lot of information that isn’t included.

So where does this leave the everyday cook who is yearning for tastier and more satisfying meals? Begin building your knowledge base!

Happily, it’s not the hopelessly daunting task it might seem to be. A surprisingly large number of knowledge bits are used again and again. Discover what makes one recipe click and there’s a very good chance that bit of knowledge will apply to a dozen other recipes, too. Very often, the only difference between a new cook and someone we consider a “good” cook is simply that good cooks have experimented more and thus have a bigger knowledge base to draw from.

4 Ways to Begin Building Your Knowledge Base

  1. As always, the best teacher is experience. Nothing like a limp vegetable stir fry to know that’s not what it means to “cook just until crisp-tender.” As important as having a kitchen learning experience, however, is observing it, learning from it and checking it into your database. That’s how a new tidbit becomes an entry in your knowledge base and not just a random bit of misfortune that is quickly fumbled through and forgotten.
  1. Books and articles are another great source of cooking know how. In fact, my cooking “education” is almost entirely a combination of experience plus reference reading. One time, for instance, I read a simple newspaper article on three secrets for great sautéing. It revolutionized the way I sauté–and is the foundation for the way I teach the technique in our classes. Besides the weekly food section of the newspaper, some of my favorite cooking know-how sources are: The Joy of Cooking (1997 ed.), Cook’s Illustrated, Fine Cooking, James Peterson’s Vegetables, and the Culinary Institute of America’s The Professional Chef.

It’s not a bad idea to make a practice, once or twice a month, of reading something about cooking–even if it’s just a recipe that shares a little background knowledge. Get started now by checking out the next blog post where I detail how I read between the lines to make Colcannon to better suit my tastes and health needs.

  1. Of course, there is much to be learned from watching and learning from others, whether that’s just a friend, family member or television chef who focus on technique more than pure entertainment.
  1. Finally, of course, there are cooking classes, whose exact purpose is to share “between the lines” cooking know how. They can really fast track your knowledge base creation, as long as they are not too narrowly focused on a single recipe or food type. Look for classes that share general, frequently used techniques and everyday cooking.

These are exactly the goals of our new Cook Happy | Live Healthy online course–which is why I hope you check it out if you’d like to build your knowledge base and gain more confidence and comfort making recipes that sparkle and sing for you. Or invite some friends over for a Cooking Get-Togethers–enjoy being with friends while learning more about everyday cooking.

One Last Caution Please don’t let this article be reinforcement for any notion you might have that cooking is an exclusive club, only for those “in the know.” Not the case at all–there is room for everyone in the kitchen! Find out how everyone–regardless of experience–is moving along the same “Good to Better Cooking Continuum,” and know that this article is only meant to help you progress from meals that are good to meals that are better, i.e., ones that better fill your yearning for yumminess, wholesomeness and comfort at mealtimes.

Now go check out my recipe for a healthy version of Colcannon, which includes a lot of the information missing from the 1960s version above!  And then read how I used my knowledge base to create this version in “Colcannon: Decoding the Missing Information Between the Lines of a Recipe.”

(1) 250 Irish Recipes: Traditional and Modern, [Mounth Salus Press:Dublin] 196? (p. 76-77) from: http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodireland.html

Advertisements

Recipe: Irish Colcannon–a Healthier Version

Simple Potatoes, Kale and Onions Make a Beautiful, Super Nutritious and Tasty Dish

STEP 1


  • ½ Tbsp. butter
  • 3 cups green onions sliced about ½” thick (from about 2 bunches, using both white and green parts)

Place a large, lidded skillet over medium heat and add butter. When melted and just lightly sizzling, use a spatula to spread over the bottom of pan, then add green onions and cook just long enough to take off their raw edge, about 2-3 minutes. Remove to a bowl.

STEP 2


  • 6 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into ¾” dice (from about 2 lbs. or 6 medium potatoes)
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 2 cups rich broth, no- or low-sodium
  • 1 cup water

Into the same skillet, put potatoes, salt, broth and water. Cover pan and bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer potatoes about 10 to 15 minutes, until almost soft when stuck with a fork.

STEP 3


  • 4 cups loosely packed kale leaves, stems removed and cut into roughly 1” squares
  • 2-3 Tbsp. salted butter
  • Unrefined salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Grainy mustard–optional condiment

Add kale to potatoes and continue simmering, covered, until potatoes are soft and kale is tender to taste, about 5 to 10 more minutes. Remove lid, turn heat to medium high and boil until most of liquid evaporates. Meanwhile, use a potato masher to mash potatoes roughly, leaving some texture. When desired consistency is reached, remove pan from heat.

Stir in reserved green onions along with butter, salt and pepper, to taste. Serve topped with an additional pat of butter and/or mustard, if desired.

Mashing the Colcannon

Even though the kale is already added, it won’t interfere with mashing the potatoes.

Leftover Fun

Don’t worry if you end up with leftovers.  You’re set for a quick and nutritious breakfast the next day–or two:

Pic of Potato PancakesMake Potato Pancakes  Beat 1 egg + 1/8 tsp. baking soda into about 1½ cups Colcannon, beating with a fork until thoroughly combined. Melt about 2 tsp. butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium to medium-low heat. When butter sizzles lightly, drop in Colcannon batter to form roughly 3” patties. Fry on both sides until golden brown.

Helpful Hint: If you will have patience and allow the patties to brown thoroughly before flipping, they will cook through nicely, flip easily without breaking, and have nice, golden crusts.

Pic of

Riff on Spanish Tortilla Mix 2 eggs + 1/8 tsp. baking soda into about 2 cups Colcannon, beating with a fork until thoroughly combined. Melt about 1 Tbsp. butter in a 10” heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium to medium-low heat. When butter sizzles lightly, pour in all of the Colcannon batter to form a large pancake. Cover pan and lower heat to medium-low or low. Allow tortilla to brown all the way across the bottom. Flip onto a plate, then slide back into pan to cook the other side. Tomatoes make a nice serving accompaniment.

Creative Fun

Although not traditional, you can experiment with some fun additions:

  • Bacon, sausage, hamburger (brown and cut or crumble into pieces)
  • Shredded cheese (sprinkle on top)
  • ½ to 1 cup cream or whole milk (mix in while mashing potatoes)
  • Chives, red onion or leek greens instead of green onions
  • Roasted chiles
  • Carrots, beets or parsnips (substitute 1 cup for 1 cup of the potatoes)
  • Other Greens (chard, collards or spinach) or the traditional cabbage

Be sure to read the other posts in this series about information that’s hiding between the lines of a recipe, and how I created this recipe by teasing out between-the-lines-information to meet my tastes and health needs.

Colcannon: Decoding the Missing Information Between the Lines of a Recipe

A traditional Irish dish, Colcannon was reserved for special occasions since “few Irish cottagers grew turnips or cabbages.” (1)  How interesting since those foods are so common nowadays!  Common though they may be, when combined with affordable potatoes you get a lovely dish that is not only budget-minded but also highly nutritious and tasty enough for company.

The following recipe for Colcannon caught my eye, no doubt because I’m part Irish, but also because autumn’s cool weather has finally blown in, making a hearty potato dish sound perfect.  What’s more, it takes good advantage of cool-weather produce:  I have lots of kale and green onions from my garden along with plenty of potatoes in with my CSA share.

Read Between the Line Pic

Reading Between the Lines  While making the recipe, however, I noticed how often I was “reading between the lines,” making additions and substitutions based on my health needs (I’m dairy-free), tastes and experience in the kitchen.  Another post explained how a lot of a recipe can be missing–as if written in invisible ink between the lines.  Read on to see how much and what information can be “missing” from a recipe, and how to begin building your knowledge base of trick and tips to make meals that are ever more satisfying for you.

Mind Your Ingredients  It all starts with good ingredients.  They are especially critical in dishes that have only a few to rely on for flavor, particularly when 1) the main ingredient (potatoes) is on the bland side and 2) when the main flavorings (cream and butter) have to be reduced or eliminated for health reasons. This is where tricks, tips and experimentation come in:

Colcannon RecipesColcannon--Substitutions

Health Boost  Interestingly, the modifications above also had the effect of improving the healthfulness of the dish.

  • Nothing against butter, but with 100 calories per tablespoon, it’s helpful to be moderate–and it’s not so very hard to reduce  5-6 Tablespoons to 2-3 Tablespoons.
  • While I eliminated the cream due to a dairy allergy, it also saves a lot on the calorie count.  Since butter and cream are the traditional  flavor enhancers, however, reducing or eliminating them makes it all the more imperative to use the flavor boosters listed above.
  • Potato skins, besides adding flavor, are loaded with vitamins and minerals, like vitamin B-6, thiamin, niacin and vitamin C, as well as iron, potassium and magnesium (2)-–plenty of reasons to leave them in the dish instead of tossing into the compost bin.
  • Finally, increasing the kale from three cups to four and tripling the green onions also boosts flavor along with nutrients.

My Recipe for Colcannon  See how I used all this information from “reading between the lines” to create my healthier version of Colcannon.

(1)  FoodTimeLine.org

(2)  “Does the Skin of a Potato Really Have All the Vitamins?”

Onion Googles–They’re for Real

Onion Goggles

Available in a lot of sites on line.

As you can imagine, we chop a lot of onions in our classes.  And we get a lot of crying, too.  I thought people were joking when they talked about getting onion goggles.  I could just imagine having to strap on tight, hard-to-manage swim goggles every time an onion had to be chopped.  As if there aren’t enough barriers to onion chopping already!

But today in McGuckin’s holiday ad, I saw a pair of Onion Goggles, and they look completely easy to slip on and off.  Plus, at $15.99, they are about $5 to $10 cheaper than what I found online.  So maybe there’s a useful gift idea for the onion chopper in your house!

A few side notes:

  • Consider using them when chopping hot chiles, too.
  • Have a handy place to store them, both for protection and ease of access, e.g., a stand-up box/case nestled in your onion storage area.
  • For those who don’t want to be bothered, it’s another good reason to learn good knife skills; cut an onion efficiently and smoothly and you’re done before the crying begins.  Check out our Knife Skills classes coming up in the new year.

How to Make Healthy, Whole Grain Breadcrumbs

Transform throw away crusts into kitchen gold

The previous post talked about “breading,” an easy building block cooking technique used to create dozens of different, interesting dishes.  Get ready to start experimenting with this technique by making your own breadcrumbs.  Save money by using up old crusts and stale bread that would otherwise go to waste.  Help the environment by keeping food out of  landfills, where it produces methane, a far worse contributor to global warming than carbon emissions.

Out of the Breadbox Bread

Good News for Gluten Free Eaters: Enjoy breaded dishes by making crumbs from your favorite GF bread, like Out of the Breadbox, at Vitamin Cottage.

Start with Whole Not Half  Healthy breadcrumbs can only come from healthy bread, and that means bread made from 100% whole grains, like whole wheat, oats, brown rice and millet.  In the ingredient listing for a bread, the single word “wheat” is code for “white flour.”  Skip that brand and look for one made entirely from whole grains.  Whole grains are so delicious and nutrition rich; why waste money on breads made with half grains, especially when it’s the halves with all the calories and few of the nutrients that go with them!

Gluten Free  Good news for gluten free eaters:  You can use gluten free bread for crumbs.  Be sure it’s whole grain, like Food for Life’s Millet Bread which makes really flavorful crumbs.

Using Food Processor to Make Crumbs

Act Ahead: Whenver you end up with a couple crusts or stale slices, toss them in the food processor and give them a whir.

Act Ahead  Don’t wait until preparing a breaded dish to make the breadcrumbs.  Then you’ll be saddled with the extra step of a  toasting them in the oven to dry.  Instead, weave the process into your normal kitchen routine.  Here’s an example:

  1. Whenever you end up with a crust or two, simply toss them in the food processor.
  2. Process the crumbs when, e.g., you’re next unloading the dishwasher.  Push the button and unload the glasses.  Once the bread has been transformed into crumbs, dump them on a plate.  Put the plate on top of, e.g, the microwave.
  3. Give the crumbs a stir or two over the next couple days to make sure the bottom ones get exposed to air.
  4. Then, while heating something in the microwave, pour the dried crumbs (make sure they are completely dry)  into a storage container; put the plate in the dishwasher.
Large Breadcrumbs

Large crumbs are great for gratin toppings, meatballs and so on. . .

Now you’ve got large crumbs to use for gratin toppings, in meatloaf and meatballs, etc.  To use crumbs for breading, I recommend one additional step:

The Fine Grind  Breading works best when the crumbs are very fine.  They do a better job of sticking to the food and creating an even, solid coating.  That’s why flour and cornmeal are such good breading ingredients.  Breadcrumbs can be made into a perfect breading ingredient by simply running them through the food processor again, after they are dried the first time.  I wait and do this when I’m making a dish, and only fine grind as much as I need, leaving larger crumbs for other uses.

Small Breadcrumbs

. . . but for breading, process again after they are dried for a small, fine crumb

No Food Processor?  An immersion blender with a chopper attachment is a good, and much less expensive, alternative.  If that option isn’t available, there’s always a rolling pin.  In the days before all our specialized electric appliances, we broke crusts into large pieces, dried them and then crushed with a rolling pin.  Putting them inside paper or plastic bags minimized the mess.

Ready to do experiment with breading?  Check out the next post on Breaded Eggplant with Herbed Tomato Topping,  which makes use of plentiful late summer and early autumn produce.

How to Bread Fish, Meat and Vegetables

One building block cooking technique, dozens of dishes

Here at EveryDay Good Eating, we like to take the mystery out of cooking.  We believe everyone can make–and deserves to enjoy–deliciously healthful food, everyday.  That’s why we teach basic, building block cooking techniques that can be mixed and matched to create a wide range of dishes.  Breading is a perfect example.  It’s an easy and inexpensive technique that can be applied to lots of different foods to create dozens of different dishes.

Breaded Eggplant with Herbed Tomato Topping

Breading eggplant adds fast elegance to this somewhat bland vegetable, creating a perfect palette for a fresh tomato topping

Why We Love Breading  Who doesn’t end up with bread crusts that no one wants?  Turn them into breadcrumbs and they won’t end up creating environmental havoc in a landfill.*  Meanwhile, you’ll save grocery dollars and end up with a form of kitchen gold.  Coat an ordinary food with breadcrumbs and suddenly it gets a welcome flavor boost and becomes something special, especially beneficial for blander foods like eggplant and zucchini.  Breading also helps retain moisture for delicate foods like fish and chicken breasts that dry out  easily when cooked.

Basic Breading Technique 

  1. Dipping Eggplant in a Wash

    Step 1: Dip the food in a "wash," here a mixture of olive oil, milk, mayonnaise and fresh herbs

    Dip a food in some kind of “wash,” like egg or milk

  2. Coat it with breadcrumbs
  3. Fry or bake until the breading browns and crisp.

Those are the basic elements of breading, although you’ll see dozens of variations in recipes.  Sometimes, sturdier and moister foods (like chicken breasts) aren’t dipped in a wash at all, or foods are dipped in flour before the wash.  The liquids used for a wash can vary from recipe to recipe.  Finally, delightful variety can be achieved by including herbs, spices and other flavors with the breadcrumbs or by swapping the crumbs for different flours, cornmeal, crushed corn flakes or cracker crumbs.

Dipping Eggplant in Whoel Grain Breadcrumbs

Step 2: Coat the slices in finely ground breadcrumbs. Here we used whole grain, gluten free crrumbs.

Making It Healthy  Breaded foods are often equated to unhealthy foods.  Think chicken nuggets, fish n’ chips and eggplant parmigiana style.  These  foods are coated thickly with white breadcrumbs then thrown in a deep frier where they absorb ungodly amounts of bad fats.   Don’t let these examples dissuade you from experimenting with this easy and delicious technique.

  • Simply use a 100% whole grain breading, whether that’s breadcrumbs, flour, cracker crumbs, etc.  While whole grain breadcrumbs can be difficult to find at grocery stores, they are easy (and free) to make.  Check out this blog on making breadcrumbs, paying particular attention to the note on giving them a second “Fine Grind” after they are dried.
  • Fry in healthful oils, like olive and safflower.
  • Use moderate amounts of oil.  Surprisingly, browning can be achieved nicely with just a tablespoon of oil.  Be sure the oil is very warm to hot (but not smoking) before adding the food so it isn’t just absorbed by the breading.  Although the second side will brown well enough in the skim of oil remaining after the first side is browned, additional oil can be added to brown the second side more thoroughly.  In this case, remove the food after browning the first side, scrape out any remaining bits so they don’t burn, add another tablespoon of oil and heat before adding the food on its second side.
  • Preparing Breaded Eggplant for Baking

    Step 3: Fry or bake. Here the eggplant is baked, but because of the oil in the wash, there was no need to spray slices with additional oil to get a nicely browned crust.

    Bake as an alternative to frying.  The hot air circulating in an oven does a great job of browning and crisping breaded food, if the weather isn’t too hot for turning on this appliance.  Best results are achieved by spraying the food with a little oil before baking.

Ready to try a breaded dish? First, find out how to make your own free, healthful, whole grains crumbs.  Next, check out the post on Breaded Eggplant with Herbed Tomato Topping,  which makes use of plentiful late summer and early autumn produce.

* Food waste produces methane gas which contributes far more to global warming than even carbon emissions.

Eating Out: Not All That Great?

Going out to eat.  It’s supposed to be so great.  That’s what all the ads sing, over pictures of sizzling steaks, creamy pasta, or tomatoes raining gaily down on cheese smothered nachos.

Typical Restaurant Meal of Cheesy Beef Nachos

They look good, but are you bored with the taste of monotone restaurant foods?

So why comments like those I heard last week from some new clients, parents of a 1-year old:  “We eat out way too much,” they both agreed.  What’s going on here?  According to popular culture, we should never tire of eating out.  It’s the epitome of good living!

  • “It’s boring,” said the husband.  Not surprising.  Most restaurants are now chains that can only profit by moving mass volumes of food.  The only way to move masses of food, in turn, is by keeping flavors within a narrow mid-range, so they appeal to masses of people.  So eat at chains long enough and your taste buds will surely get bored.
  • “It’s expensive,” said the wife.  You bet it is.  Nobody cooks food for free.  And when eating in huge chains, you’re paying not just cooks, hostesses, busboys and dishwashers but a lot of corporate upkeep, from marketing to CEO salaries to stockholder communications.
  • Finally, the wife-mother concluded,  “I feel better when I eat at home–and I think that it’s better for my nursing son, too.”  Again, not surprising.  It’s tough to profit off of vegetables (all that labor for chopping and cooking!), whole grains (not produced in quantities that allow for cut rate prices), and moderate portions of clean meat  (where’s my supersized portion?)   Besides, who would actually eat that stuff, and who knows how to cook it and make it taste good without lots of cheese, butter, salt and sugar?

As a child, I remember eating out as an enormous treat, i.e., a special something we got to do on special occasions.  But my mom was always prepared and capable of feeding her family without the helping hand of a restaurant.

In the brave new world occupied by these new parents, however, eating out is no longer an occasional, enjoyable option, but an inescapable trap.  Trapped is what happens when we and our kitchens aren’t set up for manageable meal-making.  We’re left completely vulnerable.  At that point, time pressures, lack of confidence, uncertainty and chaos are all free to gang up and leave us without any option but eating out.

Do you have options?  Are you as bored at home as at the neighborhood chains?  Can you efficiently produce meals that meet your healthy eating ideals?  Can you feed your children the way you want?  There’s help!

  1. Check out the easy mid-winter, boredom busting meal in the next post
  2. Come to a Whole Kitchen cooking series, which is all about acquiring skills to make satisfying meals day in and day out
  3. Call Mary Collette for some one-on-on kitchen coaching
  4. Tell your company or organization to contact Mary Collette for a good eating workshop; reduce health care costs and make employees happy at the same time
%d bloggers like this: